Right in the middle of the walled city of Old Delhi lies a heart that beats to a different, livelier rhythm than the din and bustle surrounding it.
It’s not the businesses and shops lining the narrow lanes around Chandni Chowk, Nai Sadak and Jama Masjid that make it so. The magic lies in the people who live there — those who call themselves the ‘original Dilliwalas’.
They live, talk and eat differently. They seem to have absorbed a lot of modernity wit 'hout losing much of their individuality.
And that’s why, their address — Dilli Chheh, or 110006 — is not just a pin code: it’s a unique state of being.
It’s not surprising, then, that a number of filmmakers — Subhash Ghai in Black and White, Rohit Shetty in Sunday and Nikhil Advani in Chandni Chowk to China among them — have decided to situate their plots within the unique ethos of the place.
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Dilli 6 is, of course, the latest film on this block.
Spend a little time in these lanes and you will know what it is that these filmmakers have tried to capture.
Many identities meet on Chandni Chowk. Just as you are turning in, you see the Jain Mandir. A few paces ahead you have Sheesh Ganj Gurdwara on your right, the Sunehri Masjid close by, and a smallish church across the road.
Thirty-five-year-old Shiv Kumar, fourth-generation owner of a chaat stall, says, “It’s easy to tell a non-Dilli chheh man, and he certainly wouldn’t want to mess with a woman from the area.” To begin with, he would get an earful, that too in the unique tongue of the area. Kumar gives an example of the charm of khadi bhasha (literally, rough language): “Kya kar rahe ho (what are you doing)’ will go something like ‘Aa riya na jaa riya, khada khada chilla riya hai’ (untranslatable).”
Many denizens of the area still wake up to the rich fare of bedvi poori and aloo. If you take a wrong turn in search of the particular shop that serves it best, you may get lost — but you may also chance upon something equally mouth-watering: daulat ki chaat in Ballimaran, palak-chhole near the Fatehpuri Masjid, and chhole kulche on Nai Sadak.
People here love to munch all day long, but how come you hardly see anyone with a weight problem? A smart young girl has a sharp answer: “We eat some and then we walk some. So we digest everything on the way.”
The sharp tongue of the Dilli chheh girl keeps the boys at bay. Two girls who stay a stone’s throw from the Jama Masjid explain. Says Sumaya Rehman, “Women here are quick to react with the harshest words and can even beat you up barehanded. It’s a very close-knit neighbourhood — everyone knows everyone and tongues wag.” Harsha Yadav laughs as she says, “It may not be a great idea to date someone from the area because even before the two realise that they like each other, the whole of Dilli chheh would know.”
At the heart of Chandni Chowk there’s the beautiful Chunnamal Haveli. Anil Pershad, who lives in this 150-year-old ancestral home, says, “Many people now want to move out of this area because of the congestion. Many come here to work but choose to stay in posh south Delhi. For us, it’s the opposite — we work in the south but stay in Dilli chheh.”
Pershad says a few things have changed ever since Dilli chheh came to be known as ‘Delhi 110006’. “Earlier, a letter addressed to ‘Anil Pershad, Delhi 6’ would reach me unfailingly. But now, I can’t be sure.” As we said, it’s more than just a pin code.